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Saturday 14 April 2012

Foresight – MLS Round 6 Weekend Preview

Four questions to be answered in this the sixth weekend of MLS action.

When cross-conference heavyweights meet, who emerges victorious and what of that disparity between the divide?

            This weekend features two marquee matches – undefeated Kansas City host Salt Lake in the battle for a leg up in the Supporter’s Shield race and New York welcomes San Jose in the shootout for the Golden Boot.

            MLS’s Sporting and Real each sits atop their conference having tallied fifteen points in these opening weeks of the season. Two entertaining, exciting teams; two very different formations and styles, A clash worthy of the speculative hype, but will it live up to the billing.

            Will the attacks cancel each other out, leaving defense to decide; do the floodgates open for an exhilarating goal-fest?

            The Red Bulls and Earthquakes have both climbed to second in their respective divisions, largely on the strength of impressive goal-scoring feats. This match features the top three goal-getters of the year – Thierry Henry and his seven; Chris Wondolowski and Kenny Cooper, each with six.

            Both sides will be missing important pieces from their lineups. New York, without stalwart – when fit – centre-back Wilman Conde, who has helped solidify a leaky back-line. San Jose must rethink their method of attack with neither Steven Lenhart, nor Alan Gordon available. Wondolowski performs best playing around a big body who can occupy the centre-backs creating space within which he can operate.

            Which side can overcome this disadvantage?

            The much discussed superiority of the West will be under pressure as top sides take to the pitch, but a quirk in the schedule has been kind to the East, as both matches take place in their representative’s home ground.

When former players return and villains revisit their crimes, who gets the last laugh?

            The early trade last season between Houston and Chicago saw Dominic Oduro shipped to the Fire with Calen Carr heading in the other direction - some would have you believe an unforgiveable miss against Philadelphia in the home-opener by the Ghanaian precipitated the transaction.

            Oduro went on to have a breakout campaign racking up twelve goals for Chicago. Houston just happen to be coming to his new home this weekend, can he exact a pound of flesh for this offense.

            Similarly long-time DC United servant Clyde Simms was deemed surplus to requirement after seven seasons in the American capital.

            Though not as vociferous about any animosity as former teammate, Marc Burch – now with Seattle - in voicing his displease with the change, he would surely enjoy a win as his new club New England host DC this round.

            Nick LaBrocca enjoyed a solid year in Toronto, only to breakout in the sunnier climes of Los Angeles for Chivas USA in 2011.

            When he accompanies his Goats into his former barn, will he bite the hand that used to feed him? Or be made to look sheepish?

            Finally, and somewhat differently, Brian Mullan will be reintroduced to the Seattle faithful on Saturday evening when the Sounders welcome the Rapids to town.

            Mullan became public enemy number one round those parts when his tackle ended the season of the promising Steve Zakuani, who is only now taking the first steps towards a return.

            There has been some calls to turn the other cheek, but sports fans seldom do, and Mullan and his teammates should be braced for and unwelcome reception.

Is this the weekend that Los Angeles and Toronto snap out of their funks and show the effort that got them so far in the first place?

Two of MLS’s representatives in the latter stages of the Concacaf Champions League have struggled mightily finding their footing in the return to league play and currently sit propping up the table of their respective conferences.

            Toronto has lost all four of their matches - including a pair at home and their visit to arch-rivals Montreal last weekend – while being outscored by nine-to-two ratio.

            Los Angeles too has lost a pair of matches at home, something they avoided entirely all of last season.

            Toronto hosts Chivas, while LA receives Portland this weekend. With regional play in the rear-view for now, can these two clubs get back on track before the season passes them by?

When struggling sides take to the pitch this weekend looking for a boost to kick-start an underwhelming opening to the 2012 adventure, which will get what they came for?

            After a tumultuous offseason that saw fan favourites walk out the door, the Union have struggled in their first four matches. They join Toronto as the only club without a win, though they rest above them having earned a point with a scoreless draw at home to Vancouver two weeks ago.

            Philadelphia welcome a Columbus side still reeling from New York’s visit last weekend and the unending injury curse that has most recently claimed the seasons of Will Hesmer and Tommy Heinemann.

            Montreal - and their fan-base - will have had their spirits buoyed by that win over Toronto last weekend, but must strive to avoid further road troubles if they hope to have a successful expansion season when they roll into Dallas this weekend.

            Portland, who masterfully navigated their first go-around in MLS and thought to have increased their stock with offseason reinforcements, are at risk of losing a club record worst four games straight if they cannot find some way to steal points in LA.

            It’s not too late – in fact, it is still quite early – but to avoid supporter’s premature frustrations coming to a boil, all these strugglers will be hoping this weekend bestows the blessing of points upon them.

    All told, nine matches for one’s viewing pleasure on the docket this weekend in round six of MLS action.

Philadelphia v Columbus; New England v DC; Seattle v Colorado; Toronto v Chivas; New York v San Jose; Dallas v Montreal; Kansas City v Salt Lake; Los Angeles v Portland; Chicago v Houston.

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